“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying?”
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
John Ehrlichman – reportedly told to journalist Dan Baum 1994
On August 8th, 1974, me and my brother were in our Stratford yard in the bright morning (my mind races to smartphone treatments to perfect my own memories. That’s troubling. But lets say Faded Color.) and our mom called us into the dark cool living room and told us to sit down. She switched on the television and it was reporters readying and a savory anticipation of something.
My family was not political in any way aside from my mothers John F Kennedy picture still hanging. That wasn’t political, that was faith. It brings to mind a salacious after school conversation with my 4th grade teacher where she called our American saint as a ‘philanderer’, which I had to look up.
‘This is important. This is history. You need to watch this.’ And we watched Nixon’s resignation speech, which I couldn’t translate into any real meaning, and then the long, lonnnng linger as Nixon flipped off and flew away. It was my first American memory.
I am not political, but I am an archaeologist of politics. When time and good reporting can add flesh to the bones of decisions. Politics is the theater of ideas, so it’s theater. Party loyalty and ambition and opportunity and unfolding history mix with money and hubris….and add 30 years to cook a good book.
I had a small Watergate fetish. I read everything I could, I took out the Nixon recordings from the library and collected late notices. It was a great drama built on a 1000 small slips, bits of poor judgement born of pure power and laziness. Ideas not thought out to competition, sweeping under versus sweeping up, all led by a ringmaster so objectionable, so uncomfortable on camera … it was near funny.
Richard Nixon was fascinating to me for he was the most human, most fallible President based on human frailties. He was ugly, and it was mentioned a lot. For years. He developed enemies and made no secret of it, though did make a secret list. He was a good salesman and saved his career with a TV spot with his dog. He sweated and came off as ghoulish standing next to our American saint (and philanderer) and it was mentioned a lot. For years.
Everyone wanted to be like Jack, but most of us are closer to Dick. And being disliked does offer some benefits. Like absolute freedom to stop caring about what’s appropriate. And surrounding yourself with men who will do what it takes and keep their mouths shut till the recordings came out.
Richard Nixon was sparking wires and the effect of too much pressure. And a real belief in the power of the Presidency that came away tarnished from use. Too many enemies and too many years of collecting information, files, tactics to punish and prohibit and ultimately, survive. And after Nixon, the truth of national faith was tested and a press that went from barking to biting was established.
And it leads us to these days, this election cycle. White hats and black hats prevail, but no notes of real humanity, which gets scrubbed away. Just blind belief and shouting down the crowd.
This story, this late confession by Ehrlichman, is the benefit of living long. It also lend real weight to things considered conspiracy theory right up until it becomes fact. The simplicity of aligning ‘enemies’ with drugs and declaring war on all of the above was almost to simplistic to believe. Though I read it before, but usually posited by people with a certain wildness of eye that made the whole thing seem incomprehensible.
I have too much faith in the country and the denizens within. Just like Dick.